If you’ve ever wanted to feel the rod jolt in your hands as a speckled trout grabs your stickbait, now’s the time to be on the water.
To the non-angler, the term stickbait is non-sensical.Maybe there could be such a thing as a shrimpbait or a minnowbait or a cricketbait, but a stickbait? A bait that looks like a stick? What would you use it for? To catch Labrador retrievers, or maybe young, mischievous boys?
And even in angler circles, the term stickbait conjures up images of Rogues or Devil’s Horses with big, egg-filled, pre-spawn bass in hot pursuit.
But many anglers would never even consider throwing stickbaits for speckled trout.
If stickbaits could be considered effective for bass, then they’re flat-out deadly for speckled trout.
Macky Waguespack of Lutcher was finding that out the fun way on a recent trip to Pointe a la Hache’s Lake Campo.
For Waguespack, catching trout had always meant piercing a shrimp under its horn or, on days when the live stuff wasn’t available, threading a tout onto a jighead. He had caught more bass on stickbaits than he could count, but trout? Never.
Then he went to Lake Campo with some buddies who were throwing nothing but MirrOlure 52MRs. The trout, though not the largest on the planet, were responding with vicious strikes. Before very long, Waguespack had tied on his own 52MR, and repeatedly got to feel the thrill of a trout slamming the bait and nearly ripping the rod from his hands.
He and his buddies had to work for the fish, but the action was steady enough to put 55 in the ice chest — not a bad haul for a winter-doldrum day.
There’s not a single month of the year when a trout won’t hit a stickbait, but there’s arguably not a better time to fish them than the late winter and throughout the spring. Over the next four months, countless trout will see a blue, chartreuse or red/white minnow darting through the water in a haphazard, crazy fashion, and will shoot over to inhale the apparently wounded baitfish. By the time they realize their mistake, it’ll be too late. The fight will be on.
Ken Chaumont knows this well. He’s grown to be a stickbait-fishing nut in the 20-plus years he’s been throwing the baitfish-imitations on Calcasieu Lake.
“There are two things that make stickbaits attractive: It’s a very exciting way to fish, and they’re very effective,” he said.
Chaumont’s bait of choice is the Rat-L-Trap Slap-Stik, which he’s used to put 9-pound trout in the boat during the annual spring run on Calcasieu.
What makes the Slap-Stik so effective, in Chaumont’s opinion, is the fact that the rattling ball bearings are in the bait’s tail, causing it, among other things, to rest almost vertically in the water column.
“The weighted tail also gives it a very tight wiggle. For trout, I think a tight wiggle is most effective,” he said.
A productive technique for fishing the bait is, obviously, important, but even more crucial is throwing it in an area that’s holding fish. To ensure he’s doing the latter this time of year, Chaumont pays particular attention to the weather, and plans his fishing outings for days that are warming.
“On those types of days, the shallow water warms very fast,” Chaumont said. “I go immediately to the west banks; those are going to warm up first because of the sun rising in the east. Flats on the west side of a lake will be 4 to 6 degrees warmer than those on the east side, and that gets the bait active and moving around.”
And, of course, where the bait is, there will the trout be.
Even this time of year, Chaumont works the stickbaits in coves and over shallow oyster reefs.
“People think the trout are all in deep water. That’s not true; when that shallow water warms up, it’ll hold trout,” he said.
Chaumont looks first for baitfish activity over a reef.
“You want to find a few mullet — even if they’re big mullet,” he said. “If you look in the school, you can usually see some smaller mullet — about 4 inches long — mixed in. They don’t have to be in big groups — just maybe four or five small mullet together.
“If you see that, that’s where you want to fish, especially if the small mullet look a little skittish. The big trout will sort of lay in with the big mullet to disguise themselves.”
When he finds a bait-holding reef or cove, Chaumont will motor upwind, and allow the breezes to push him across the area.
“The great thing about a stickbait is that you can cover so much water with it,” he said. “A topwater, you have to twitch-twitch-twitch. It takes a long time to work, but with a stickbait, you can make a lot of casts and work it much quicker.”
The technique Chaumont has found to be most effective is what he calls a ‘rip and reel.’ After a cast, he’ll sweep his rod back, and then quickly reel in the slack before he sweeps it again. He’ll repeat the process until the bait reaches the boat or is clobbered by a big trout.
“After you rip it, you need to reel in that slack quick. That’s when I get at least 70 percent of my strikes — when the bait’s sitting still, right after I’ve just ripped it,” he said.
The tail-weighted nature of the Slap-Stik causes it to suspend for a second or two after the bait darts. That short window forces the trout to make a quick decision: If it doesn’t strike while the bait’s sitting still, it might never get another chance.
When the Slap-Stik does begin to rise, it does so headfirst, which makes it look even more like a true baitfish, Chaumont explained.
“Its head pops up just like a minnow,” he said. “Any surface-feeders you see are going to be feeding with the top of their heads sticking out the water.”
If he has any success at all on a drift, Chaumont will go back and repeat the same drift.
“If I hit one, I’m going back,” he said. “That means there are fish there, and the warmer it gets, the more they’re going to bite.”
The reefs Chaumont finds most productive this time of year are in 2 to 5 feet of water. He’ll vary the speed of his retrieves and the angle of his rod tip to get the bait to work higher or lower in the water column, until he finds where the fish are holding. The deepest the Slap-Stik will run, he said, is about 2 feet.
He’s very particular about the colors he fishes. When the sky is blue and the sun is high, he likes chrome/blue back. When the water and sky are clear but the sun is low on the horizon, he throws chrome/chartreuse back. If the water has a stain to it, he’ll throw nothing but a gold/chartreuse. If he’s fishing a large school of bait-sized mullet, his favorite color is what Rat-L-Trap calls gold mullet.
Prime time for throwing stickbaits, Chaumont said, is February through June.
“Everybody throws topwaters in May and June because, well, who doesn’t like to see a big trout come up to the surface to inhale a lure? But stickbaits are deadly then,” Chaumont said, explaining that stickbaits really shine on those days when trout repeatedly swipe at topwaters but don’t eat them.
Southeast Louisiana guide Capt. Billy Bucano likes stickbaits for many of the same reasons as Chaumont, but his lure of choice is a MirrOlure 52M.
“I love that bait,” he said. “I love the way fish attack it. It’s got a slow fall that really makes it irresistible.”
Bucano estimates he’s been fishing the lures for about 30 years. He said on his very first cast ever with a 52M, he caught a 3 1/2-pound trout at Gosier Island. He’s been hooked on the baits ever since.
The veteran Delacroix angler throws 52Ms every chance he gets this time of year. The only time he won’t pull one out of the tackle box is when bitterly cold temperatures have driven trout off the flats and forced them into the deep holes.
Typically, even a day or two after the passage of a cold front, the sun will heat the flats up enough to hold trout.
“This is the time we catch our biggest trout of the year in shallow water on MirrOlures,” he said.
But even when temperatures on the flats are mild, Bucano has found that the absolute key to catching fish on MirrOlures is the presence of mullet.
“If I see mullet, I’m throwing it,” he said.
Active mullet are more important than clean water, tidal movement or sky opacity, Bucano said.
“Two years ago, we fished the mouth of Thorntree Bayou, and the water never was very pretty — there’s constant boat traffic there — but we killed the 19- to 23-inch trout there every day, all on MirrOlures,” he said.
Bucano likes to make long casts to lee shorelines. He then makes four or five cranks on the reel, and twitches the bait twice using only his wrist.
“You just want to turn the head of the bait,” he said. “It’s got those mirrors on the sides, and you just want to get those to shine in different directions.”
Shorelines that will most often hold bait and, consequently, trout are those that are adjacent to deep water and have oyster-lined bottoms, Bucano said.
“We catch all our big fish right now in 14 to 20 inches of water,” he said.
Bucano also throws Catch 2000s, but he finds the baits more difficult to work than 52Ms in the frequently windy conditions.
His favorite colors, by far, are crawfish and purple demon.
Like Chaumont, Bucano knows that sticks and trout go together like french bread and fried shrimp.
Capt. Billy Bucano can be reached at (601) 795-0760.